The poem I'm going to look at today is a sort of half-riddle, a popular well-known English one that everyone knows the answer to. For all you foreigners, this is the poem from Die Hard with a Vengeance.

"As I was going to St. Ives
I met a man with seven wives
The seven wives had seven sacks
The seven sacks had seven cats
The seven cats had seven kits
Kits, cats, sacks and wives
How many going to St. Ives?"

The answer is, of course, one, as the bloke with all the wives was not going to St. Ives, he was coming from it. But let's examine this poem in detail. First of all, we have a man with seven wives. Little bit dodgy. But for all we know he could be a Mormon, member of the thriving Mormon community in St. Ives, Cornwall. So let's not stand judgment on him just because he likes a lot on the side.

Next line. The seven wives had seven sacks. This doesn't mean that there was one sack each, oh no. This means each wife is carrying seven of these sacks. No mention of these wives being hot air balloons, so they can't be ballast. So the question remains: why is each wife carrying seven sacks? If it's for the purpose of carrying stuff, why not just one big sack to heft over the shoulder? Or maybe a little cart running behind them? It's asking a bit much to ask each one of your concubines to drag along seven brown hessian bags. You usually get an earful for making the wife carry two shopping bags.

Moving on, the poem examines the contents of these sacks. The answer: cats. Each of these sacks is carrying seven cats. Correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't the PETA and the RSPCA trying to put a stop to this sort of thing? Cats are gregarious up to a point, but the point does not extend to being tied up in pitch darkness with six of their fellows. These will not happy cats be. And unhappy cats tend to transmute very rapidly into violent cats. So each one of these sacks is probably wriggling like I don't know what. Let's do some maths here. Seven cats x seven sacks: Each wife owns FORTY-NINE CATS! With seven wives, this brings the total of cats to a staggering THREE HUNDRED AND FORTY THREE unhappy cats, a force to be reckoned with.

But no! These sacks are not full yet! It's bad enough that seven cats are being forced to coexist in a rather small bag, they had to bring the family too! Each cat is nursing a litter of seven kittens, so as well as the adult cats each sack contains forty-nine little ones, all of whom are probably learning to fight very quickly. So we now know something else - every single one of the 343 adult cats are females who have recently given birth. Ah, I think a picture is forming. Obviously this chap owns a cat farm, and was taking his female cats to another cat farm in St. Ives, in this case, a cat stud farm. But this doesn't explain the sacks. Nor why each cat had exactly the same number of kittens. The suspension of disbelief is being stretched so hard the elastic's showing.

Some more maths - we have forty-nine kittens and seven adult cats. If we count a kitten as half an adult cat, each sack now contains THIRTY-ONE AND A HALF cats. This is one sack, remember. Each wife has seven of these. So now each wife is staggering under the weight of a whopping 220.5 cats! If we say each cat weighs about four kilograms, which would make them rather scrawny, that makes 882kg being carried by one wife! That's nearly a metric tonne! And this Mormon bloke isn't carrying a damn thing!

The total amount of cats in this party comes to a rather mind-blowing 1543.5. So we have over one-and-a-half thousand cats, screeching and mewing and scratching and biting and struggling and shitting all over each other. We have the wives incessantly moaning about their wearing these painfully mobile sacks like so many saddlebags. I think I can understand why the narrator of this tale felt moved to write a little poem. Here, then, is my new, revised version of the St. Ives poem.

"As I was going to St. Ives
I met a Mormon cat farmer with seven wives
The seven wives were crawling around on the floor under the weight of seven sacks each
The forty-nine sacks were wobbling and making rather distressing screeching noises, there being seven cats within each of them
The 343 cats were engaged in several fights to the death, spilling huge quantities of kittens all over the place
Then this Mormon cat farmer took me aside and said
'Look, do you think you could take some of these bloody cats off my hands? They're driving me up the wall.'
Whereupon I gave him a thick ear, set fire to the wives and threw the sacks in the river, because I don't appreciate this sort of thing complicating my holidays.
Then I went down the beach and had a paddle.
Singing to-ra-li etc."

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